Examining the Doctrines of the Trinity and the Person of Jesus Christ in the Eyes of the Apostolic and Ante-Nicene Father
By Hal Flemings
The Christian Greek Scriptures are candid in predicting a general apostasy within the Christian church following the death of the apostles of Jesus' Christ. That being the case, these questions can be legitimately raised: Was the doctrine that -"Jesus Christ is the Almighty God" taught by the apostles and their associates, or did it have its Genesis later? And was the doctrine that there are three divine persons in the one God, the Trinity, taught by the apostles and their spiritual companions, or did it have its origin later? This paper will survey the period beginning immediately after the death of the last living apostle, John, and ending before the Council of Nicea in an attempt to provide some answers to the foregoing' questions. This does not mean that we do not recognize the value of looking at either the time of the apostles or the Post-Nicene "Fathers" in addressing the same questions. Those periods will be examined in a different work.
Before we consider, in detail, the principal questions before
us, let us first establish that a systemic corruption of the early church was
predicted in the Christian Greek Scriptures.
The Apostle Peter penned this warning in or about 62 C.E.* "But there were false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Sovereign Lord who bought them -,bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping." (2 Peter 2:1-3) In his last meeting with the Christian elders of Ephesus, the Apostle Paul alerted them as follows: "I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years, I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears." (Acts 20:29-31) Continuing, in his second epistle to the Christians at Thessalonica, the Apostle Paul attempted to quell rumors that the second advent of Christ was imminent and stated. "Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come. Don't let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come, until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction." (2 Thessalonians 2:1-3) The Amplified New Testament renders verse 3 of 2 Thessalonians 2 this way: "Let no one deceive or beguile you in any way, for that day will not come except the apostasy comes first - that is, unless the (predicted) great falling away of those who have professed to be Christians has come - and the man of lawlessness (sin) is revealed, who is the son of doom (of perdition)." Other passages speak of a coming apostasy, as well, among them are Jude 1-25 and 1 Timothy 4:1-6.
* All quotations will be from the New International Version (NIV) unless otherwise stated.
With all of the other apostles dead, the aged Apostle John noted that the general apostasy of the church was in progress and that its end had arrived. His comments at 1 John 2:18-20, written about 98 C. E., are most interesting: "Dear children, this is the last hour and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us. But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth." This "last hour" occurred near the end of the First Century C.E. The emergence of an alternative "Christianity" was in motion.
A number of individuals professing to be Christians living primarily after the apostles had died produced certain writings considered to be authoritative that shed light on "Christian" practices and doctrines of their respective times. These individuals have come to be called the "Church Fathers". They are now our focus as we address the questions raised at the beginning of this article. Those who lived and wrote before 120 C.E. have been labeled the "Apostolic Fathers", while those who lived and wrote after 120 C.E. but before 325 C.E. have been called the "Antenicene Fathers".
* Time line presenting some of the "Fathers".
|30 - 100 C.E. Clement of Rome||40 - 115 C.E. Ignatius||69 - 155 C.E. Polycarp||70 - 150 C.E. Papias|
|110 - 164 C.E. Justin Martyr||110 - 180 C.E. Tatian||125 - 203 C.E. Irenaeus||145 - 220 C.E. Clement of Alexandria|
|160 - 230 C.E. Tertullian||
185 - 253 C.E. Origen
200 - 257 C.E. Cyprian
|240 - 325 C.E. Lactantius|
* The dates assigned to each of the "Fathers" vary with the source. The dates above are not to be viewed as uncontestable. It is also worth noting that none of the original writings of these men has been identified, so that the sources we are considering are really copies.
Clement of Rome is our first source. It is believed that his
life intersected that of apostles of the Christ and that he died in or about 100
C.E. In the material alleged to have been written by him, he makes no comment
about the Trinity either directly or indirectly. Here are some quotes* from his
writings that may be helpful in getting a feel on his concept of who Jesus was:
From the First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians:
Chapter I: "...Grace unto you, and peace, from Almighty God through Jesus Christ, be multiplied."
Chapter XLII: "The apostles have preached the gospel to us from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ (has done so) from God. Christ therefore was sent forth by God, and the apostles by Christ."
Chapter LVIII: "May God, who seeth all things, and who is the ruler of all spirits and the Lord of all flesh - who chose our Lord Jesus Christ and us through him to be a peculiar people - grant to every soul that calleth upon his glorious and holy name, faith, fear, peace, patience, long-suffering...".
Leaving eisegesis alone and letting the material speak for itself, there is nothing suggesting that Jesus is the Almighty God or that he is equal to him. The Almighty God is presented in contradistinction to Jesus Christ. Furthermore, the Almighty God is pictured as superior to Christ, "sending him forth" and "choosing him" for a specific purpose.
We next move to Ignatius of Antioch of whom M'Clintock and
Strongs Cyclopaedia, Vol. IV., p. 490, states, "We have no trustworthy accounts
of the life and ministry of Ignatius. The chief authority is the Martyrium
Ignatii, but even those who assert the genuineness of that work admit that
it is greatly interpolated."
One authority** had this to say about Ignatius' view of Jesus Christ, "Jesus is called 'God' in neither of the two letters concerned with the Judaizing heresy (Magnesians, Philadelphians), but in the others there are eleven definite examples of this usage:
"Jesus Christ our God"
|"The blood of God"|
|7:2||"In man, God"|
|18:2||"Our God, Jesus the Christ"|
|19:3||"God was manifest as man"|
|Rom. Inscr.||"Jesus Christ our God" (twice)|
|3:3||"Our God Jesus Christ"|
|6:3||"The passion of my God"|
|Smyrn. 1:1||"Jesus Christ, the God who.."|
|Polyc. 8:3||"Our God, Jesus Christ"|
* All of the quotes from the "Fathers", unless otherwise stated, are from The Ante-Nicene Fathers; Roberts and Donaldson, Editors; American Reprint of The Edinburgh Edition; Wm.B. Eerdman Publishers, 1967.
** Robert M. Grant, The Apostolic Fathers - A New Translation and Commentary, Volume 4, "Ignatius of Antioch", page 7, Thomas Nelson and Sons Publishers, 1966
For this authority and others such statements indicate that this man, whose life possibly overlapped that of the apostles, believed that Jesus Christ was, in fact, the Almighty God. The same source* added, "What Ignatius means by 'God' is not confined to what he could find in the Old Testament or early Christian tradition. God, and Christ as God is 'Eternal', 'Invisible', 'Intangible', 'Impossible'. (Polyc. 3:2) This is to say that Ignatius, or other Christians shortly before his time, had introduced into their theology some of the conceptions current in Greek philosophical theology."
Let us place before us some of the aforementioned citations**:
To the Ephesians:
1:1: "You are imitators of God, and after rekindling, by the blood of God, the task natural to you, you have completed it perfectly."
18:2: "Our God, Jesus the Christ was conceived by Mary in accordance with the plan of God - of the seed of David and of the Holy Spirit; He was born and was baptized to purify the water by the passion."
To the Romans:
Inscr.: "Ignatius ... to her who has obtained mercy by the greatness of the Father Most High and of Jesus Christ his only Son, to the church beloved and enlightened by the will of him who willed all things that exist, in accordance with the love of Jesus Christ our God... Jesus Christ, Son of the Father...".
3:3: "Nothing that appears is good, for our God, Jesus Christ appears all the more clearly because he is in the Father...".
8:3 "I bid you farewell always in our God Jesus Christ...".
* IBID. Page 8
** Translation in The Apostolic Fathers - A New Translation and Commentary, by Robert M. Grant, Volume 4, "Ignatius of Antioch".
Interestingly, a subordinated Christ seems to be depicted in
these Ignatian citations:
Magnesians 13:2: "Be subject to the bishop and to one another, as Jesus Christ was subject to the Father, and the apostles were subject to Christ, so that there may be unity both fleshly and spiritual."
Magnesians 8:2: "There is one God who manifested himself through Jesus Christ his Son, who is his Word which proceeded from silence and in every respect pleased him who sent him."
On balance, there is, at least, a sense that maybe Ignatius of Antioch considered Jesus Christ to be the Almighty God or a second God. But there are some other considerations; the matter does not end here.
One authority on the "Fathers" reveals the following about the Ignatian writings, "The epistles ascribed to Ignatius have given rise to more controversy than any other documents connected with the primitive church. As is evident to every reader on the very- first glance at these writings, they contain numerous statements which bear on points of ecclesiastical order that have long divided the Christian world; and a strong temptation has thus been felt to allow some amount of prepossession to enter into the-discussion of their authenticity or spuriousness. At the same time, this question has furnished a noble field for the display of learning and acuteness, and has, in the various forms under which it has been debated, given rise to not a few works of the very highest ability and scholarship... There are, in all fifteen epistles which bear the name of Ignatius, these are the following: One to the Virgin Mary, two to the Apostle John, one to Mary of Cassobelae, one to the Tarsians, one to the Antiochians, one to Hero, a Deacon of Antioch, one to the Philippians; one to the Ephesians, one to the Magnesians, one to the Trallians, one to the Romans, one to the Philadelphians, one to the Smyrneans, and one to Polycarp. The first three exist only in Latin; all the rest are extant also in Greek. It is now the universal opinion of critics, that the first eight of these professedly Ignatian: letters are spurious. They bear in themselves indubitable proofs-of being the production of a later age than that in which Ignatius lived. Neither Eusebius nor Jerome make the least reference to them; and they are now by common consent set aside as forgeries; which were at various dates, and to serve special purposes, put forth under the name of the celebrated Bishop of Antioch. But after the question has been thus simplified, it still remains sufficiently complex. Of the seven epistles which are acknowledged by Eusebius (Hist. Ecll., iii, 36), we possess two Greek rescensions, a shorter and a longer. It is plain that one or other of these exhibits a corrupt text, and scholars have for the most part agreed to accept the shorter form as representing the genuine letters of Ignatius... But although the shorter form of the Ignatian
letters had been generally accepted in preference to the longer, there was still a pretty prevalent opinion among scholars, that even it could not be regarded as absolutely free from interpolations, or as of undoubted authenticity." - Ignatius, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume I, Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, Editors.
Under the cloud of later additions to the text, we do not dare lean heavily on the letters attributed to Ignatius in order to get a pulse on Ignatius' views. The Ignatian comments about "God" may not be from Ignatius of Antioch.
Polycarp now commands our attention. According to M'Clintock and Strong Cyclopedia, Vol. III, page 362, "There is extant only one short treatise by this Father, προς φιλππησιους επιστολη Ad Philippenses Epistola. That he wrote such an epistle, and that it was known in their time, is attested by Irenaeus (Adv. Hoeres. iii,3 and Epistol. Ad Florinum, Apud Euseb. H.E. IV, 14 and V, 20), Eusebius (H.E. iii, 36; iv, 14), Jerome (DeViris Illustr. C. 17), and later writers... Our present copies have been received by the great majority of critics as substantially genuine. Some have suspected the text to be interpolated...." Not much is presented in Polycarp's material that helps us with our questions. However, let us look at the Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians, Chapter 12 verse 2, which relates, "Now may the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Eternal High Priest himself, the Son of God, Jesus Christ, build you up in faith and truth...". If this tells us anything about the "Christology" of Polycarp, it tells us that Polycarp saw Jesus as a subordinate to the Almighty' God who was his God and his Father. The introduction of the same epistle says, "...Mercy to you and peace from God Almighty and from the Lord Jesus Christ, our Savior be multiplied... Similar to what we encountered in the works of Clement of Rome, we see a Jesus described who is distinct from the Almighty God and not described as a person within the being of God.
The work of the next "Father", Papias, is fragmentary and does
not provide us much to address our questions.
When we arrive at the major figure after Papias, namely Justin Martyr, we find much information to investigate.
A number of writings are attributed to Justin Martyr. Let us look at what is called The First Apology of Justin Martyr. The following quotes from this work will be helpful:
Chapter VI: "Hence we are called Atheists and we confess that we are Atheists, so far as gods of this sort are concerned, but not with respect to the Most True God, the Father of righteousness and temperance and the other virtues, who is free from all impurity. But both Him, and the Son (who came forth from Him and taught us these things, and the host of the other good angels who follow and are made like to him) and the prophetic spirit, we worship and adore..."
Chapter XXI: "And when we say also that the Word, who is the firstbirth of God, was produced without sexual union, and that he, Jesus Christ, our Teacher, was crucified and died, and rose again, and ascended into heaven, we propound nothing different from what you believe regarding those whom you esteem sons of Jupiter. For you know how many sons your esteemed writers ascribed to Jupiter: Mercury... Aesculapius... Bacchus... Hercules..."
Chapter XXIII: "...That Jesus Christ is the only proper Son who has been begotten by God, being his Word and first-begotten, and power..."
Chapter XLVI: "...We have been taught that Christ is the
first-born of God and we have declared above that he is the Word of whom every
race of men were partakers..."
Chapter LXIII "Now the Word of God is his Son, as we have before said and he is called Angel and Apostle... But so much is written for the sake of proving that Jesus the Christ is the Son of God and his Apostle, being of old the Word, and appearing in the form of fire, and sometimes in the likeness of angels... For they who affirm that the Son is the Father, are proved neither to have become acquainted with the Father, nor to know that the Father of the Universe has a Son, who also, being the first-begotten Word of God, is even (a) god. And of old he appeared in the shape of fire and in the likeness of an angel to Moses and to the other prophets..."
In the First Apology, Justin Martyr has cast Jesus Christ
as a son to Jehovah God in the same way that Mercury, Bacchus, etc. were sons to
Jupiter. Also Justin states that Jesus Christ is God's "first-begotten", his
"first-born". And, though Jesus Christ is a god, he is nonetheless subordinate
to Jehovah, his Father and Producer.
In Justin Martyr's Dialogue With Trypho, we discover more as we shall see:
Chapter XXXIV: "For Christ is King, and Priest and (a) god and lord, and angel and man and captain..."
Chapter XXXVII: "Moreover in the diapsalm of the forty-sixth (47) Psalm, reference is thus made to Christ, 'God went up with a shout, the Lord with the sound of a trumpet. Sing ye to our God'... and Trypho said.... 'For when you say that this Christ existed as (a) god before the ages, then that he submitted to be born and became man, yet 1 that he is not of man this appears to be not merely paradoxical but also foolish'... 'Now assuredly, Trypho,' I continued, 'The proof that this man is the Christ of God does not fail... that he existed formerly as Son of the Maker of all things, being (a) god, and was born a man by the virgin..."
Chapter LV: "And Trypho answered, 'We shall remember this your exposition, if you strengthen (your solution of) this difficulty by other arguments; but now resume the discourse, and show us that the spirit of prophecy admits another God besides the Maker of all things..."
Chapter LVI: "Then (Justin) replied, 'I shall attempt to persuade you, since you have understood the Scriptures (of the truth) of what I say, that there is, and that there is said to be, another God and Lord subject to the Maker of all things; who is also called an Angel, because he announces to man whatsoever the Maker of all things above whom there is no other God - wishes to announce to them...'. Then (Justin) replied, 'Reverting to the Scriptures, I shall endeavour to persuade you, that he who is said to have appeared to Abraham, and to Jacob, and to Moses and who is called "God" is distinct from Him who made all things - numerically, I mean, not (distinct) in will'... 'For I affirm that he has never at any time done anything which he who made the world - above whom there is no other god - has not wished him both to do and to engage himself with'."
Chapter LXI: "I shall give you another testimony, my friends,' said I, 'from the Scriptures, that God begat before all creatures a beginning (who was) a certain rational power (proceeding) from himself, who is called by the holy spirit, now the glory of the Lord, now the Son, again Wisdom, again an Angel, (a) God, and then Lord and Logos... He speaks by Solomon the following, "If I shall declare to you what happens daily, I shall call to mind events from everlasting, and review them. The Lord made me the beginning of his ways for his works. From everlasting he established me in the beginning before he had made the earth"..."
Chapter LXII: "...Even as the Scripture by Solomon has made clear, that he whom Solomon calls Wisdom, was begotten as a beginning before all his creatures and as offspring of God..."
Chapter LXIII: "(Re: Heb. 1:8,9) Therefore these words testify explicitly that he is witnessed to by him who established these things as deserving to be worshipped as (a) god and as Christ."
Chapter LXIV: "Here Trypho said, 'Let him be recognized as Lord and Christ and (a) God..."
Chapter LXVIII: "...They (Jews) agree that some Scriptures which we mention to them, and which expressly prove that Christ was to suffer, to be worshipped, and (to be called) 'God'..."
Chapter CII: "For if the Son of God evidently states that he can be saved (neither) because he is a son, nor because he is strong or wise, but that without God he cannot be saved, even though he be sinless, as Isaiah declares in words to the effect that even in regard to his very language he committed no sin (for he committed no inequity or guile with his mouth), how do you or others who expect to be saved without this hope, support that you are not deceiving yourselves?"
Chapter CXXIV: "...Let the interpretation of the Psalm (Psalm 82) be held just as you wish yet thereby it is demonstrated that all men deemed worthy of becoming 'gods' and of having power to become sons of the Highest and shall be each by himself judged and condemned like Adam and Eve. Now I have proved at length that Christ is called (a) god."
What have we learned from Justin Martyr in his Dialogue with Trypho? That Jesus was "another god" apart from "the Maker of all things". That Jesus, as a "god", was "distinct from him who made all things". Also, Justin reported that Proverbs 8:22-31 applies to Jesus and hence that Jesus had a beginning, that he "was begotten as a beginning". Additionally, Justin informed us that Christ depended upon God 'to be saved', that he could not save himself. Justin Martyr's Christ is not equal in power, station or age to God the Father.
Another Second Century "Father" is Hermas. His main work, apparently widely read and quoted in the Second and Third Centuries, was called The Pastor from which these quotations come:
The Pastor - Book First - Visions
Chapter 2: "For the Lord hath sworn by his Son, that those who denied Lord have abandoned their life in despair..."
The Pastor - Book Second - Commandments
Commandment Tenth, Chapter I: "Wherefore remove grief from you, and crush not the Holy Spirit which dwells in you, lest he entreat God against you, and he withdraw from you."
Commandment Eleventh: "...Nor when man wishes the spirit to speak does the Holy Spirit speak, but it speaks only when God wishes it to speak..."
The Pastor - Book Third - Similtudes
Similtude Fifth, Chapter 6: "God planted the vineyard, that is to say, he created the people, and gave them to his Son and the Son appointed his angels over them to keep them..."
Similtude Ninth, Chapter 12: "First of all, Sir, I said, 'Explain this to me: What is the meaning of the rock and the gate?' 'This rock', he answered, 'and this gate are the Son of God.' 'How, sir?', I said, 'The rock is old, and the gate is new!' 'Listen', he said, 'and understand, 0 ignorant man. The Son of God is older than all his creatures, so that he was a fellow-councillor with the Father in his work of creation: for this reason is he-old..."
Hermas does not say anything that would lead us to believe that he saw three persons in one God nor does he tell us that Jesus was the Almighty God. The Holy Spirit and the Son are pictured as subordinates, not equals. And the Son is identified as a being distinct from God.
We arrive at Tatian (110 - 180 C.E.), a man Church historians say fell away from Christianity in his old age. The only extant work of Tatian is his Address to the Greeks, in which we find these statements:
Chapter 5: "God was' in the beginning; but the beginning we-have
been taught, is the power of the Logos. For the Lord of the Universe, who is
himself the necessary ground of all being, inasmuch as no creature was yet in
existence, was alone; but inasmuch as he was all power, himself the necessary
ground of things visible and invisible, with him were all things; with him, by
Logos-power the Logos himself also, who was in him, subsists. And by his simple
will the Logos springs forth; and the Logos, not coming forth in vain, becomes
the first-begotten work of the Father. Him (the Logos) we know to be the
beginning of the world. But he came into being by participation, not by
abscission; for what is cut off is separated from the original substance, but
that which comes by participation, making its choice of function, does not
render him deficient from whom it is taken... and as the Logos, begotten in the
beginning, begat in turn our world, having first created for himself the
necessary matter, so also I in imitation of the Logos, being begotten again
(baptism?) and having become possessed of the truth, am trying to reduce to
order the confused matter which is kindred with myself."
Tatian's Christ or Logos was produced out of the being of God without affecting or diminishing God in the doing. He, the Logos, was "the beginning of the world". Just as the Logos begat the world so did God begat the Logos. Tatian does not discuss the Holy Spirit as though it was an equal personality in this process.
Theophilus of Antioch (115 - 181 C.E.?) now attracts our
attention. His work called Theophilus to Autolycus may help us get his
Book I, Chapter 4: "(God) is without beginning, because he is unbegotten..."
Book II, Chapter 10: "And first, they taught us with one consent that God made all things out of nothing, for nothing was coeval with God... God, then having his own Word internal within his own bowels, begat him, emitting him along with his own wisdom before all things. He had this Word as a helper in the things that were created by him, and by him he made all things."
Book II, Chapter 22: "...John says, 'In the beginning was the Word and the Word was God', showing that at first God was alone, and the Word in him. Then he says, 'The Word was God, all things came into existence through him; and apart from him not one thing came into existence.' The Word then being (a) god, and being naturally produced from God, whenever the Father of the universe wills, he sends him to any place..."
Theophilus has painted a picture of the Logos that is similar to that of Tatian. The Logos was taken from God's "bowels" and came to be a being to himself. He participates in divinity by being produced from God's substance but he is placed in a subordinate position coming and going at the pleasure of the Father. Again, the Holy Spirit is not given the status assigned to the Logos; there is no indication that Theophilus believed in three equal persons in one God or two equal persons out of one God.
We come now to the prolific Irenaeus (120 - 202.C.E.?). He provides much insight on his thinking about God, the Logos and the Holy Spirit as we shall see in several of his works:
Irenaeus Against Heresies, Book I
Chapter 9: "The fallacy, then, of this exposition is manifest. For when John, proclaiming one God, the Almighty, and one Jesus Christ, the only-begotten, by whom all things were made, declares that this was the Son of God, this the only-begotten, this the former of all things, this the true light who enlightenth every man, this the creator of the world..."
Chapter 10: "The Church (believes) ... in one God, the Father Almighty... in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God... and in the Holy Spirit who proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations of God..."
Chapter 28:6: "But beyond reason inflated (with your own wisdom), ye presumptuously maintain that ye are acquainted with the unspeakable mysteries of God; while even the Lord, the very Son of God, allowed that the Father alone knows the very day and hour of judgement, when he plainly declares, 'But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, neither the Son, but the Father only. If then the Son was not ashamed to ascribe the knowledge of that day to the Father only, but declared what was true regarding the matter neither let us be ashamed to reserve for God those greater questions which may occur-to us."
Chapter 28:8: "For if any one should inquire the reason why the Father, who has fellowship with the Son in all things, has been declared by the Lord alone to know the hour and the day (of judgement), he will find at present
no more suitable, or becoming, or safe reason than this (since, indeed, the Lord is the only true Master), that we may learn through him that the Father is above all things. For 'the Father', says he, 'is greater than I' ... The Father, therefore, has been declared by our Lord to excel with respect to knowledge..."
From Irenaeus Against Heresies Books I and II, we have learned that Irenaeus' view was that the Logos was not equal to the Father in knowledge and that he was the "only begotten", while the Father was "the one God, the Almighty". Also, Irenaeus saw the Holy Spirit as one that "proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations of God
Irenaeus Against Heresies, Book III
Chapter 6: "...For the spirit designates both. (of them) by the name of God - both him who is anointed as Son, and him who does anoint, that is, the Father. And again: 'God stood in the congregation of the gods, he judges among the gods'. He (here) refers to the Father and the Son, and those who have received the adoption; but these are the church... of whom he again speaks, 'The God of gods. The Lord hath spoken, and hath called the earth'. Who is meant by 'God'? He of whom he has said 'God shall come openly, our God, and shall not keep silence. That is, the Son, who came manifested to men, who said, 'I have openly appeared to those who seek me not'. But of what gods (does he speak)? (Of those) to whom he says, 'I have said, 'Ye are gods, and all sons of the Most High'. To those, no doubt, who have received the grace of the 'adoption by which we cry, Abba, Father'."
Chapter 8: "For that all things, whether angels, or archangels,
or thrones, or dominions were both established and created by him who is God
over all, through his Word, John has thus pointed out... so that he indeed who
made all things can alone, together with his Word, properly be termed God and
Chapter 9: "...But inasmuch as he (Jesus) was (a) god, he did not judge according to glory, nor reprove after the manner of speech..."
Chapter 16:7: "...The only begotten of the Father, Christ, who was announced, and the Word of God, who became incarnate when the fulness of the time had come, at which the Son of God had to become the Son of Man."
Preface: "...On behalf of which I have proved, in a variety of ways, that the Son of God accomplished the whole dispensation (of mercy) and have shown that, there is none other called God by the Scriptures except the Father of all, and the Son, and those who possess adoption."
Chapter 1: "...Therefore, this is sure and steadfast that no other God or Lord was announced by the spirit, except Him, who, as God, rules over all, together with his Word, and those who received the spirit of adoption..."
Chapter 6: "...And through the Word himself who had been made visible and palpable, was the Father shown forth... but all saw the Father in the Son for the Father is the invisible of the Son, but the Son the visible of the Father. And for this reason all spake with Christ when he was present (upon earth) and they named him God."
Chapter 17:3: "Therefore, by remitting sins, he did indeed heal man, while he also manifested himself who he was. For if no one can forgive sins but God alone, while the Lord remitted them and healed men, it is plain that he was himself the Word of God made the Son of Man, receiving from the Father the power of remission of sins; since he was man and he was (a) god, in order that since as man he suffered for us, so as (a) god he might have compassion on us, and forgive us our debts..."
Chapter 18:2: "...The Father is indeed above all, and he is the head of Christ, but the Word is through all things, and is himself the head of the Church; while the Spirit is in us all, and he is the living water..."
This last set of quotations from Irenaeus reveals that for him many could be called "God": the Father, the Logos and those "who have received the grace of the adoption". The Holy Spirit was not included. Both those adopted and the Logos are subordinate to the Father, not at all equal to him. For Irenaeus there is no Trinity and Jesus Christ as a divinity has the Father as his head.
We come now to Clement of Alexandria (145 - 220 C.E.). Clement was originally a pagan philosopher before converting to the Christianity of his time. One of his famous pupils was Origen whom we will consider shortly. We now look at Clement's writings:
EXHORTATION TO THE HEATHEN, CHAPTER I:
"Well, inasmuch as the Word was from the first, he was and is the divine source of all things... This Word, then, the Christ, the cause of both our being at first (for he was in God) and of our well-being, the very Word has now appeared as man; he alone being both god and man..."*
THE INSTRUCTOR, BOOK I:
Chapter 2: "Now, 0 you, my children, our instructor is like his Father, God, whose Son he is sinless, blameless and with a soul devoid of passion (a) god in the form of man... The Word who is (a) god, who is in the Father... and with the form of God is (a) god..."
Chapter 8: "But 'no one is good' except his (Jesus') Father."
THE STROMATA, BOOK 7:
Chapter 2: "For ignorance applies not to the god, who before the foundation of the world, was the counsellor of the Father. For he was 'wisdom'** in which the Sovereign God 'delighted'. For the Son is the power of God, as
being the Father's most ancient Word before the production of all things, and his wisdom."
* Also in this chapter we read, "And now the Word himself
clearly speaks to this, shaming thy unbelief; yea, I say, the Word of God became
man that thou mayest learn from man how man may become (a) god." Clement thus
does not limit the term "god" to the Father and the Son but extends it to
believers. Irenaeus wrote similarly.
** See Proverbs 8:30.
Clement of Alexandria argues that the Word was "in God"
originally. This reminds us of Tatian who said that the Word was, at first, in
God and then proceeded from God to assume his own unique identity. His being
"God" or "a god" arises out of his being produced out of God. Furthermore, the
Logos is identified with the "wisdom" mentioned' at Proverbs 8:22-31-and hence
he is seen as having a beginning, a start. Clement of Alexandria, therefore,
believed that Jesus' divinity came out of his being produced from God the
Father; he held that Jesus had a beginning and on that basis, at least as a
distinct "person", was not equal to the Father in time. Little is revealed about
the Holy Spirit in all of this.
The much quoted Tertullian (160 - 230 C.E.) is our next "Father". His views will sound a somewhat familiar ring. Tertullian penned the following:
Chapter 21: "We have been taught that he (the Word) proceeds forth from God, and in that procession he is generated; so that he is the Son of God, and is called God from unity of substance with God. For God, too, is a spirit. Even when the ray is shot from the sun, it is still part of the parent mass; the sun will still be in the ray, because it is a ray of the sun - there is no division of substance, but merely an extension. Thus Christ is Spirit of Spirit, and God of God, as light of light is kindled... So, too, that which has come forth out of God is at once God and the Son of God, and the two are one.. In this way, also, as he is Spirit of Spirit and God of God, he is made a second in manner of existence - in position, not in nature; and he did not. withdraw from the original source but went forth."
TERTULLIAN AGAINST MARCION, BOOK 2:
Chapter 27: "With regard, however, to the Father, the very gospel which is common to us will testify that he was never visible, according to the word of Christ, 'No man knoweth the Father, save the Son' for even in the Old Testament he had declared, 'No man shall see me and live'. He means that the Father is invisible, in whose authority and in whose name was he God who appeared as the Son of God... (Christ) even in this manner is he our God... uniting in himself man and God, God in mighty deeds, in weak ones man, in order that he may give to man as much as he takes from God..."
Tertullian's Logos was generated out of the being of God and because of that he is God for God is still "in" the Logos like 'the sun is still in a ray'. The notion of two persons being one God seems inherent in Tertullian's theology. The Holy Spirit has not arrived to this level in Tertullian.
It may be interesting to compare Tertullian's Logos to that of his predecessors and contemporaries. Justin Martyr saw the Logos as "another God and Lord"; Tertullian saw them both as the very same God. Tatian saw the Logos as a being originating out of the substance of God, one who seemed to be a being all to himself, while Tertullian's Logos seems to be nothing more or less than an extension of the very being of God. This is also true when we consider the views of Theophilus of Antioch; his Logos comes from God but is seen as another being helping God and going wherever he is sent, since he is a subordinate. Irenaeus is less restrictive with his identification of "God". For him, this term applied to the Father, to the Son and to adopted believers here on the earth. For Irenaeus, the Logos is not "God" in the sense he is "God" with Tertullian.
One of the most esteemed "Fathers" now takes our attention; his name is Origen (185 - 253 C.E.?). He has much to share with us as we shall see:*
"If we understand what prayer really is, we shall know that we may never pray to anything generated - not even to Christ - but only to God and the Father of all, to whom even our Savior himself prayed, as we have already said, and teaches us to pray. For when he is asked, 'Teach us to pray', he does not teach how to pray to himself, but to the Father, and to say: 'Our Father, who art in heaven', and so on. For if the Son, as is shown elsewhere, is distinct from the Father in nature and person., then we must pray either to the Son and not to the Father, or to both, or to the Father only. Everyone will agree that to pray to the Son and not the Father would be very strange, and maintained against the clearest evidence; and if to both, then we must obviously pray and make our requests in the plural saying, 'grant ye', 'favour ye','provide ye', 'save ye', and everything similar in the same way.. But this is clearly incongruous, nor can anyone point out where anyone has used it in Scripture. There remains, then, to pray to God alone, the Father of all, but not apart from the High Priest who was appointed with an oath by the Father..."
* All of the Origen quotes are from The Ancient Christian Writers - The Works of the Fathers in Translation, Series, Volume 19, "Origen" Translated by John J. O'Meara; Newman Press, 1954.
"...And as, if one is to pray correctly one does not pray to him who prays himself, but rather to the Father whom our Lord Jesus taught us to call upon in our prayer... He did not say simply,. ask me, or ask the Father: but rather, if you ask the Father_ anything, he will give it to you in my name."
"...For the Father can rightly be regarded also as the Lord of his Son, and Lord also of those who have through him become sons...
EXHORTATION TO MARTYRDOM 29 Part V
(Regarding Jesus' prayer to let this chalice pass from me)
"...But such was not the will of the Father,. which, as compared with the will
of the Son and with the judgment of the Saviour, orders and disposes all things
with superior wisdom."
Clearly Origen's* Logos is not equal to the Father in wisdom or authority and the Holy Spirit does not enter his discussions on a level with the Logos, let alone with the Father. Origen's Logos is not "God" in the sense that the Father is "God".
In J. Nigel Rowe's Origen's Doctrine of Subordination, A Study in Oriqen's Christology, page 7, we note: "It ought to be pointed out that although in Origen's view the Son is the only being who shares the Father's divinity in its fulness, there are other beings - angels and men - who possess that divinity in part. Divinity is thus arranged in a fourfold hierarchy, in which the higher of the inferior types is surpassed by the Word of God, and the Word of God in turn is surpassed by the God of the Universe. In fact, certain beings (i.e., angels) are explicitly stated to have been honoured by God with the title of "God" in so far as they partake of his divinity. In one place Origen points out that "St. John inserts the definite article before the word θεος when that term refers to the αγενητος cause of all things, but omits it when the word is applied to the λογος."
Our next "Father" is Cyprian (200 - 257 C.E.?). We learn this
THE EPISTLES OF CYPRIAN
Epistle 7:1: "Our Lord did the will of his Father..."
Epistle 7:5: "...And to entreat the Lord himself and then through him, to make satisfaction to God the Father, we have an advocate and an intecessor for our sins, Jesus Christ the Lord and our God..."
Epistle 72:18: "How then, do some say that a Gentile baptized,
outside the Church, yea, and in opposition to the Church, so that it be only in
the name of Jesus Christ, everywhere, and in whatever manner, can obtain
remission of sin, when Christ himself commands the heathen to be baptized in the
full and united Trinity* ... and he who blasphemes against him whom
Christ called his Lord and God... The same Father whom he called 'greater' than
Epistle 74:22: "...Impious voice blasphemes against the Father and God of Christ and the Creator of the whole world."
Cyprian's Christ is a divinity but a divinity who has a divinity as his Father and Superior, being "greater".
The last "Father" that we will consider is Lactantius (240 - 325 C.E.?). His life bridges us into the Nicene period. What we learn from him is insightful with respect to the thinking of many in his time:
THE DIVINE INSTITUTES, BOOK 4
Chapter 6: "God, therefore, the Contriver and Founder of all things... before he commenced this excellent work of the world, begat a pure_ and incorruptible spirit whom he called his Son. And although he had afterwards created by himself innumerable other beings, whom we call angels, this first-begotten, however, was the only one whom he considered worthy of being called by the divine name, as being powerful in his Father's excellence and majesty... Assuredly, he is the very Son of God, who by that most wise King Solomon, full of divine inspiration, spake these things which we have added: 'God** founded me in the beginning of his ways, in his work before the ages. He set me up in the beginning before he made the earth'..."
* A literal translation of the text is: "_____________".
** Proverbs 8:22-31.
Chapter 13: "...For which reason it was befitting that the Son
also should be twice born, that he also might become fatherless and motherless.
For in his first nativity which was spiritual, he was motherless, because he was
begotten by God the Father alone, without the office of a mother. But in his
second, which was in the flesh, he was born of a virgin's womb without the
office of a father, that bearing a middle substance between God and man, he
might be able, as it were, to take by the hand this frail and weak nature of
ours, and raise it to immortality.."
Chapter 29: "...When we speak of God the Father and God the Son, we do not speak of them as different; nor do we separate each because the Father cannot exist without the Son, nor can the Son be separate from the Father, since the name of Father cannot be given without the Son, nor can the Son be begotten without the Father. Since, therefore, the Father makes the Son, and the Son the Father, they both have one mind, one spirit, one substance; but the former, is as it were, an overflowing fountain, the latter as a stream flowing forth from it; the former as the sun, the latter, as it were, a ray extended from the sun."
Although Lactantius views the Son as "begotten" of God, a view repeated over and over with many of the other "Fathers", for him there is a kind of mutual dependence that exists between the Father and the Son, an equality not seen in the earlier works that we have studied. A different kind of Son is presented in Lactantius, one who shares a common essence with the Father. The spirit of a duality - a partnership of two beings sharing the experience of being God, in the ultimate sense - is plainly crafted in Lactantius' Christology. As in earlier works, the Holy Spirit is not presented as an equal partner in the heavenly abode.
We have attempted to keep commentary to a minimum in this paper in order for the reader to get a feel for himself about the views of the "Fathers". On our part, our conclusions are as follows: Following the death of the apostles, in concert with the prediction of Christ, found at Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43, the Devil went to work in the "field of wheat", the early Christian congregation. Distortions to Christian doctrine and practice began early even as indicated by the Apostle John's solemn warning at 1 John 2:18-24. The doctrine of Christ underwent an evolution that eventually placed him on a par with the Father. The Jesus Christ, the Logos, of the First Century congregation was not the one of the late Third and Fourth Centuries, for sure. And, the notion that there were three equal persons in one God is not mentioned at all, neither in the Christian Greek Scriptures or in the "Early Fathers".
With the copies of the works of the "Fathers" before us and Jehovah's Holy Word, we are brought irretrievably to the conclusion that we need not look to the "Fathers" to determine the identity and nature of Christ nor to determine the place and purpose of God's Holy Spirit.
SIDE NOTES TO THE APOSTOLIC & ANTE-NICENE FATHERS
1. From Creeds,, Councils and Controversies - Documents Illustrative of the History of the Church, A.D. 337-461, edited by J. Stevenson; William Clowes & Sons Ltd., Publishers; London, 1966:
A. From the Council of Antioch, 341 A.D.:
"We believe, conformably to the evangelical and apostolical
tradition, in one God, the Father Almighty... In one Lord Jesus Christ, his Son,
Only Begotten God, by whom are all things... and in the Holy Ghost, who is given
to those who believe for comfort, and sanctification, and initiation, as also
our Lord Jesus Christ enjoined his disciples, go ye, make disciples of all the
nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost
namely, of a Father who is truly Father, and a Son who is truly Son, and of the
Holy Ghost who is truly Holy Ghost, the names not being given without meaning
or, effect, but denoting accurately the peculiar subsistence (υποστασις), rank
and glory of each that is named, so that they are three in subsistence, and in
agreement one." (page 11)
B. The doctrinal statement of the Western Council of Sardica, 343 A.D.:
"...Lately two vipers have been born from the Arian asp, namely
Ursacius and Valens: they boastfully declare themselves to be most undoubted
Christians, and yet they affirm that the Word and the Holy Ghost were both
crucified and slain, and that they died and rose again; and they pertinaciously
maintain, like the heretics, that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are of
diverse and distinct hypostases.. We have received and been taught, and we hold
the Catholic and apostolic tradition and faith and confession which teach, that
the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost have one hypostasis, which is termed
'essence' (ουςια) by the heretics.... If he (Jesus) had had a beginning, he
could not have always existed: for the ver existent Word does not have a
beginning.. God will never have an end. We do not say that the Father is the
Son, nor that the Son is the Father, but that the Father is the Father, and that
the Son is the Son of the Father... We affirm that he is truly Son, yet not in
the way in which men are said to be son: for they are said to be sons of God on
account of their regeneration, or of their merit, and not on account of their
being of one hypostasis with the Father, as is the Son. ...We confess that there
is but one God, and that the divinity of the Father and of the Son is one. No
one can deny that the Father is greater than the Son: this superiority does not
arise from any difference in hypostasis, nor indeed from any diversity existing
between them, but simply from the name of the Father being greater than that of
the Son." (pages 16,17)
C. From the Creed of the Long Lines, 345 A.D.:
"...Nor again, in confessing three realities and three persons,
of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Ghost according to the Scriptures, do we
therefore make three Gods: since we acknowledge the self-complete and unbegotten
and unbegun and invisible God to be one. only, the God and Father of the
only-begotten, who alone has being from himself and alone, as an act of grace
confers this on all others bountifully... believing then in the all-perfect
triad, that is, in the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, and calling the
Father God, and the Son God, yet we confess in them not two Gods but one dignity
D. The Second Creed (The Blasphemy) of Sirmium, 357 A.D.:
"...No one can doubt that the Father is greater than the Son in honour, dignity, splendour, majesty, and in the very great name of Father, the Son himself testifying, he that sent me is greater than I. And no one is ignorant that it is Catholic doctrine that there are two persons of Father and Son; that the Father is greater, and that the Son is subordinated..." (page 35)
2. An indication that Church "Father" Hermas believed that Jesus Christ and Michael the Archangel are one and the same is found at Pastor of Hermas, Book Third, Similitude 8th, Chapter 3. Hermas is a Second Century C.E. source.
3. Tatian's view of the human soul is found in his Address to the Greeks, Chapter 13.
4. Irenaeus argues that the human soul is immortal in Irenaeus Against Heresies, Book 2, Chapter 34.
5. Very important! Note Irenaeus' discussion on God's name in Irenaeus Against Heresies, Book 2, Chapter 35. One of God's name is "Jaoth".
6. Irenaeus argues that the Father has given up his name for Jesus' name in Irenaeus Against Heresies, Book 4, Chapter 17:6.
7. Irenaeus discusses the "New Earth" in Irenaeus Against Heresies, Book 5, Chapters 33-36.
8. Irenaeus argues that each creative day was 1,000 years long in Irenaeus Against Heresies, Book 5, Chapter 28:3.
9. Clement of Alexandria presents a Mormonistic view of man in his Exhortation to the Heathen, Chapter 1, "...And now the Word himself clearly speaks to thee, shaming thy unbelief; yea, I say, the Word of God became man, that thou mayest learn from man how man may become God."
10. Cyprian applied Jesus' words at Matthew 16:18 to groups of bishops not to one bishop or pope. See the Epistles of Cyprian, Epistle 26.
11. In The Epistle of Barnabas, (c 100 C.E.), Chapter 15, we find, "Therefore my children in six days that is in six thousand years, all things will be finished, "and' he rested on the seventh day'". This meaneth when his Son comes again shall destroy the time of the wicked man, and judge the ungodly... 'I shall make a ,beginning of the eighth day, that is, a beginning of another world. Wherefore also, we keep the eighth day with joyfulness, the day
also on which Jesus rose again from the dead." The writer evidently viewed each creative day as one thousand years in length and also refers to the early practice of having congregational meetings on Sunday, since Jesus was resurrected on that day.
12. Justin Martyr suggests that Jesus died on a cross in the First Apology of Justin Martyr, Chapter 55.
13. In Chapter 67 of the First Apology of Justin Martyr, Justin Martyr notes the practice of meeting on the first day of the week, Sunday, "And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits.... But Sunday is the day on which we all hold common assembly..."
14. In Chapter 6 of the Second Apology of Justin Martyr, the question of God's name is raised, "But to the Father of all, who is unbegotten, there is no name given. For by whatever name he be called, he has as his elder the person who gives him the name. But these words 'Father', and 'God' and 'Creator' and 'Lord' and 'Master' are not names, but appellations derived from his good deeds and functions. And his Son, who alone is properly called Son, the Word, who also was with him and was begotten before the works, when he first created and arranged all things by him, is called Christ...."
15. Justin Martyr discussed 'new heavens and new earth' and speaks of two resurrections in his Dialogues with Trypho, Chapter 81.
16. In Justin Martyr's Hortatory Address To The Greeks, Chapter 21, he says this about God's name, "For God cannot be called by any proper name for names are given to mark out and distinguish their subject-matters., because these are many and diverse; but neither did any one exist before God who could give him a name, nor did he himself think it right to name himself, seeing that he is One and Unique..."